Everyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite things to talk about are bathrooms, and Nepal bathrooms are no exception. Is that weird? Absolutely. After my first big trip to Asia, I realized that no one really cares if you saw Mount Everest or spent two weeks in silence with monks. The only question on everyone’s mind was, “What were the toilets like?”
At first, I thought “Man, my friends are the classiest!” Then, I remembered Googling toilets before leaving for my first trip to Asia. I got to Asia, opened the door to a bathroom and tilted my head slightly to the right. I evaluated the toilet as if it were a rival. I looked it square in the eye, but the toilet stared me down and I blinked first. I took out my phone and prayed I had cell service. I looked up toilets one more time and walked in there with the confidence of a child who has just started potty training.
If you’re headed to Nepal, it’s likely you too will come face to face with a toilet you’ve dreaded using but have faith. You shall rise above, or at the very least you won’t pee on yourself… hopefully.
Long or Short Toilet
The first time I arrived in Nepal, I remember laughing hysterically after seeing a sign that said “Short Toilet 5 rupees, Long Toilet 10 rupees.” In my mind, I assumed this meant a long toilet was a western toilet and a short toilet was a squat toilet. I had therefore asked to use the “long toilet” as I was willing to pay an extra 5 cents for the small luxury. When I was done, my friend said “That was fast, was something wrong?” I looked at him very confused. It took a while for us to realize the misunderstanding. “Long toilet” means you’re going to poop and “short toilet” means you need to pee. So, I had unknowingly announced that I needed to poop.
Oddly, Nepali people don’t find this horrifyingly embarrassing. As an American, we’ll sit silently in a public bathroom and wait for everyone to leave before pooping. If someone walks in mid poop, we’ll suck it back in and hold it for another 5 minutes until that person leaves too. If two people have to poop, there’s a poop standoff where both people pray the other gives up and leaves first. After careful consideration, I decided that announcing you need to take a sh*t wasn’t that weird. Poop standoffs are much stranger.
The Search for Western Toilets
A western toilet is a seated toilet like we are accustomed to in America. These can be found in nice hotels, restaurants, and tourist areas. Something most people don’t realize is that sometimes a place will have five stalls and one will have a western toilet. Always check all the stalls before committing to a squat toilet. Also, they sometimes have the flusher on the top. I’m used to pushing a button or lever. I swear it took me several minutes to realize that I had to pull a knob up to flush.
Where is the Lever?
You open the door to the bathroom and a glowing light emanates from behind a beautiful western toilet. Music plays from the heavens and a tear comes to your eye. It’s a wonderful day in paradise. You finish your business and reach for the lever to flush it. It’s not there. You look to the other side, but no lever. You look on top for the aforementioned pull tab. Nothing. You’ve turned into a full on detective and suddenly you have glasses, a notepad, and a fancy handlebar mustache. You look for clues but there’s no lever in sight. This is a common experience in Nepal, but don’t be afraid. There will be a small bucket in the room and a tap. Fill the bucket and then dump the water down the toilet. Voila! A manual flush.
The Squat Toilet
Cue thunder, lightning, and some dark scary music. Just kidding. The squat toilet isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s been proven that it’s a much healthier position for your body when you poo. Here are some pro tips. If you’re wearing pants, roll up the bottoms. I personally like pants with elastic at the hem for this reason. Trust me, you do not want your pants to hit the bathroom floor. Now that your pants are rolled up, you can pull your pants down to your knees. Don’t drop them all the way to the floor.
Put one foot on either side of the squat and bend at the knee and the waist. It’s most comfortable if you are sitting back toward your feet. Your body should be parallel to the wall. If you lean forward, you’ll lose balance and hit the door with your face. When you see a squat toilet door for the first time, you’ll understand why this is the grossest thing that could ever happen to you. If you don’t sit low enough, you’ll probably pee on your feet. As Lil Jon would say circa 2000 “Get low.”
Where Does the Toilet Paper Go?
Toilets/pipes in Nepal can’t handle toilet paper. Wait what? Here’s the thing. Most local people don’t use toilet paper. Instead they wash themselves with their left hand and then wash their hands extra good. That’s why you’ll notice Nepali people spend a few minutes at the sink soaping their hands up while westerns tend to wash quickly. You’ll also hear that it’s rude to hand things to people with your left hand, especially money or food. It’s kind of like saying “I wipe my a** with this money.” Very insulting.
So, where do you put the toilet paper if you can’t put it in the toilet??? There’s usually a garbage bin in the bathroom where you can throw it out. If you go trekking, I highly recommend biodegradable wet wipes since the garbage is often burned or just thrown out of sight somewhere. If there’s no garbage, then you have to make a gut decision. Risk throwing it in the toilet and pray it goes down, hide it in a corner and run, or live there for the rest of your life and never open the door again. I prefer the flush and pray method, but to each their own.
The Bum Gun
In cities, you may encounter the bum gun. The bum gun seems strange at first, but don’t judge it too quickly. It’s a hose like contraption that attaches to the wall and sprays out water. This is how Nepali people clean themselves without toilet paper in cities. You simply spray it to clean yourself and bam, so much better than toilet paper.
I have yet to figure out how you dry yourself without toilet paper before pulling your pants back up. If the weather is nice, sitting there for a little bit and drip drying doesn’t hurt. If it’s cold out, you’re simply screwed and will remain damp the entire day. Has anyone figured this out yet? I swear, I’ve asked so many people and no one knows how to dry off. Let’s crowd source this one guys. Tell me the secret in the comments.
How to Flush with a Bucket
So, I’ve previously mentioned that you may need to flush a western toilet with a bucket. You will definitely need to flush squat toilets with a bucket. The big elephant in the room is, “How do you get the poop to go down?” Yes, everyone’s nightmare is that you pour bucket after bucket and your poop keeps resurfacing. Do you flee the scene of the crime? Hide in the shower? Leave and don’t stop walking until you reach India? Pretend it was the person before you?
There’s a strategy to flushing a toilet. If you’ve already tried to flush, and it didn’t work, then don’t go halfway. Fill the bucket to the top. Then, (this is very important) pour the water on the side of the toilet bowl in one spot only! Think of how a western toilet flushes. All the water comes from one side of the toilet bowl. This creates a little poop flushing cyclone. Voila. You’re free to exit the bathroom with your head held high.
The Hole in the Ground
Worst case scenario, you’ve gone wayyyy off-the-beaten path. You’re on the highway and you’ve left the city of western toilets. You’ve turned right at the village of squat toilets. Now you’re on “doesn’t even exist on Google Maps” highway and need to pee. The obvious solution is to go in the woods.
What if you’re staying at someone’s home in the middle of nowhere? That’s when you’ll encounter the hole in the ground. No, it’s not the best. But there is some etiquette to follow. Often these bathrooms will have a pile of dirt, pine straw, or leaves in a corner. After you do a number two, just push a bit with your foot into the hole. It covers your poo and keeps it from smelling super bad. This is another wonderful time to have biodegradable wet wipes since they’ll be buried in the ground or burned.
This one’s for my ladies. I remember wondering, “What do I do if I have my period?” This might sound ridiculous, because you just go to the bathroom like normal. But in Nepal, there are a few obstacles. What if you can’t flush the toilet paper. Do you have to hide it under a mountain of clean toilet paper so no one sees it? How do you clean yourself? How do you use a squat toilet? What if there’s no garbage? What if I’m trekking and there’s only snow for miles and no trees to hide behind? All of these are fair questions to ask.
First, if you’re comfortable with it, wear a Blossom Cup. You can wear it all day (unlike a tampon) and only have to change it at your hotel in the morning and at night. This takes the guess work out of how to use squat toilets in far off areas without garbage cans.
Second, if there’s a bum gun, use it. Then, wipe yourself dry with toilet paper. It lessens the massacre effect on your toilet paper so you won’t be so embarrassed about throwing it in the garbage. You can still bury it under a mountain of toilet paper if it helps you sleep at night, but let’s try to save the environment and avoid this.
Three, if you’re trekking and there’s nowhere to go, you’ll want to dig a little hole, go, and fill it in when you’re done. This might sound a bit gross, but you’ll want to bring a ziplock bag or something similar to put any sanitary products in so that you can carry them until you get to a bathroom with a garbage. Please don’t leave them on the mountain. That’s gross and bad for the environment.
Have any questions about Nepal bathrooms? Ask in the comments! I’m more than happy to answer since I don’t embarrass easily. Also, I’ve probably googled the same question at least ten times before.
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.